Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday dollars + sense: Not leaving Canberra

I regard Canberra as something close to paradise. And although I am leaving The Canberra Times I am not leaving Canberra.

I felt that I had found “home” when I arrived here from my original home of Adelaide back at the start of the 1980s.

Canberra seemed to be everything that other parts of Australia were, but more so.

It had more trees, more openness, a greater sense of belonging.

And yet Canberra was Australia's newest city, derided by people in bigger towns who couldn't understand why we would want to be part of the landscape rather than looking away from it towards the sea.

Since returning here to work as The Canberra Times' economics editor two years ago I've noticed that much has changed, some of it for the worse...

The once magnificent ACTION bus service is a parody of what it was. It looks as if more effort has gone into producing the new shiny signs that say we have a bus service than actually providing one.

Self-government was a mistake, but one that's impossible to take back. The Commonwealth won't have us and it would be wrong to hand the home of the Parliament to NSW.

The new substandard housing blocks in Gungahlin appall me. The blunder that deprived them of proper access to the internet is an added insult.

The government is arrogant and at times doesn't even seem interested.

The Live in Canberra campaign is a joke, and a cruel one. It reeks of an inferiority complex. What other Australian city apart from Adelaide would even try such a stunt? Where are the houses that the new arrivals would live in?

But the things that I first fell in love with in Canberra are still here.

On our first morning back two years ago my daughter Grace said “people smile at you here”.

We marveled at the birds, the expanses of (brown) grass, and the relaxed spacious nature of the environment.

We felt wanted, cared for, among friends.

I'll miss the personal contact with readers after I leave The Canberra Times – many of them neighbours, people I see at the shops.

Although I'll be staying in Canberra, I'll be writing for a newspaper far away, with readers in a city in which I don't live.

I'll no longer feel that we are sharing the same things, that we breathe the same air, that we are all part of something really special.

So if you see me on the street, riding my bike or trying to change busses, or picking up the kids, say “hello”. I'm not going anywhere.

This is Peter Martin's last column as Canberra Times economics editor.